Rodale's Organic Life launches

Rodale's Organic Life launches

SPD Board member Francesca Messina interviewed Chris Gangi on the new launch of Rodale's Organic Life. It debuted on April 14th, and is a reinvention of the 70-year old Rodale brand, Organic Gardening. Here are some thoughts from Chris and Nancy Rouemy (Principal of We Live Type & Design), who helped Chris reshape the magazine's logo.

SPD: What motivated Rodale's decision to re-launch an organic lifestyle brand? They have done an organic magazine previously. Was this a new editorial approach as well as a new design?
As we continue to grow and diversify at Rodale, our Chairman and CEO, Maria Rodale, and our President, Scott Schulman, made the decision to reinvent the company's 70-year-old flagship brand Organic Gardening, transforming it into Rodale's Organic Life. Organic Life expands into some new content areas and further taps into consumers' growing interest in healthy living by offering a fresh spin on food, gardening, the home, and wellbeing--an intersection of topics that lie right at the heart of Rodale. And yes, the design is entirely new.

(read and see more after the jump)

Chris, can you articulate a bit of what your design and editorial vision consisted of?
Mostly mind-melding with the brilliance of our Editor-in-Chief, James Oseland. I've known Jim for years but never worked closely with him before now. I admired what he brought to Saveur while he was the EIC there. When it came time for us to envision Rodale's Organic Life, we spent weeks trying out various styles of typography, image choices, and tonal shifts for excitement. In the end, it all came together "organically".
What was the brief for Nancy Rouemy, who redrew the masthead?
After numerous test logos, with approvals from the President and the Chairman of Rodale, we narrowed the logo down to one all were in agreement on. But at first it was still just a font that I chose off the Internet, and I felt that it needed to be ours. We needed a sense of ownership, so I reached out to Nancy and told her about the evolution of Rodale's Organic Life  She was able to take this information and give the logo a polished look that made it stand out. Her work is uncanny. It's so seamless that you wonder what changed, but then you look closely and realize, a lot changed--and for the better.

Organic Life Masthead
Nancy: Can you share the process/challenges /some iterations of the approved version of the masthead?
Redrawing the masthead for Rodale's Organic Life ranks as one of my favorite assignments. To begin, I love the subject matter, having converted to eating organic foods a year ago (for the most part!). 
     While working at three magazines with mastheads that I admire -- Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, and The New York Times Magazine -- I often thought about reworking an existing masthead or creating one from its inception. So when Chris Gangi called to see if I wanted to personalize and finesse the Organic Life logo which would reside on a new launch edited by James Oseland, award-winning, former Editor-In-Chief of Saveur, I enthusiastically accepted the assignment.
     After seeing the existing logo, I identified several technical areas that needed correcting. I thought the characters locked-up well; however, the font -- Roboto Slab -- felt too mechanical and chiseled at its present state for the content at hand.
     For the first round, Chris and I decided that I would add some contrast to the strokes, round and narrow the serifs, and create a relationship between the ''c'' and the ''e''. I was intent on creating a nod to a leaf in the counter of the ''a'' -- prime real estate to push organic. As I began to taper the thin strokes, I decided to draw beakish teardrop terminals to hint at the shape of a leaf. In untraditional form, I drew an italicized ''f'' and inserted it amongst the roman characters; albeit, it found a comfortable home and added a ''living'' element, a ''yin and yang'' element, a suggestive ''bonus'' element the accompanies an organic lifestyle.
     After seeing the first round, Chris wrote in the follow-up email, ''Wow. You are really good at what you do....'' During our follow-up conversation, Chris explained that although he thought the rendering was really beautiful, it lacked the gender neutrality of the first logo. I also realized that Chris really wanted to maintain the general DNA of the original characters -- and I, too, liked their modern vibe.

Organic Life new.old_We Live Type & Design.jpg
For the final logo, I preserved the the ideas of the notch at the top of the ''g'', the leaf-like counter in the ''a'', and a relationship between the ''c'' and the ''e'' from the first round. I visually reduced the height of the slabs by accentuating their angle. This move suggests a subtle upward growth feeling. Overall, I made the rounded forms more geometric, modelling the shapes of fruits and vegetables. I smoothed out the chiseled terminals on the ''a'' and the ''c''. I extended the descender of the ''g'', the top of the ''f'', the bottom right serif of the ''L'', and narrowed the crossbar of the ''e''. All of these moves (and many more) resulted in a tight, modern, friendly, readable and recognizable identity.

Can you talk about new fonts, new photography/illustration approaches, and the design? (show some examples: FOB, TOC, features, etc, why did you pick this trim size and grid structure, etc)
We wanted to create a tension between organic and synthetic throughout the entire issue. We all know it's difficult to do everything in your life organically, and Rodale's Organic Life is not here to admonish, but rather to show you how little steps can lead to big changes, both in your own life and in the health of the planet. One place where you can see that tension is in the editor's letter. It's typewritten on notebook paper, which softens the grid. In our "Flower Power" feature, about the organic flower movement, we used torn paper to bring extra attention to captions and sidebars, and we used black photo borders--a nod to the days of film rather than digital imagery. 
How did you consider all of the brand's iterations in conceiving of this launch? Was it a launch of digital as well as print presences and products (web site, apps, ancillary products)?
Yes, we launched a website,, just ahead of the print magazine. We have plans for the tablet and mobile versions as well. It was important to us that all of our brand extensions have a consistent look and feel while maintaining their own unique identity.
Who were the key contributors and can you tell us a little about their roles and why they were involved? How long did the process take?
In terms of imagery, all of our contributors were wonderful, but two key players made the issue stand out. Corey Arnold, the fisherman-photographer who shot our "Salmon Bay" feature and Gentl & Hyers who made the gorgeous salmon food pictures--one of which graces the issue cover. We even did a food shoot in Australia with Christopher Court. To be able to pull that off in an inaugural issue was quite a feat. Illustration plays a key role in the overall look of Rodale's Organic Life as well. A key discovery for me was Riki Blanco, from Kate Larkworthy Reps, who just blew me away with his pieces. 
Has the launch been a success in respect to newsstand subscription sales?
It hits newsstands and mailboxes April 14...

  • Ray Lacross

    #2 is not that bad, sorry but I have to say YUK! to #1 :( Too mechanical for such a great subject matter. Very 80's... Too bad, I was actually looking forward to see this magazine.

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